We’re all familiar with the sentiments – laziness, apathy, boredom. They aren’t unique to any one person or activity in particular, but they become especially prevalent towards the end of high school. The phrase ‘senioritis’ wouldn’t exist if it weren’t so tempting to kick back and relax during your last year, especially after a decade of compulsory education. However, keeping up with your schoolwork and extracurriculars can have some practical benefits, which include helping to prepare you for the college workload in general, and against academic burnout. Additionally, as some college admissions require you to list your senior year courses during the application process, by under-performing in your classes you could actually be jeopardizing your application status, even if you have already been accepted. So senior year grades do matter – albeit to a slightly lesser significance than they had prior to the college application – in the sense that it shows if you’re willing to commit to a level of performance regardless of whether or not you’re being ‘watched’.
Now, more than ever, students entering US colleges need remedial coursework to catch them up to the collegiate level. It isn’t so much that they never learned it, but that they allowed their skills – usually math or English – to atrophy once they satisfied whatever exams were required of them. Beyond these exams, which are usually in the junior year of high school (but which vary statewide; in New York they’re called the Regents) a student is at some liberty to choose which courses they will be taking their senior year, and many opt for an easier year.
While most colleges aren’t so stringent as to demand particular courses during your last year, it becomes a matter of foresight and preparation to take courses that will at least reinforce the accumulated knowledge that got you into college in the first place. What some colleges are doing is to ask for which courses you’re taking prior to your senior year to see precisely how easy is the street you intend to take – and taking courses that test your acquired skills not only reflect well on the application, and in potential interviews, but they’ll also keep you honed for the upcoming semester. Some schools also require mid-year reports from guidance counselors to keep the admissions office on track of the academic performance of accepted applicants.
Taking courses your senior year, and doing well in them, also presents the opportunity to take a proactive approach towards preparing for college. While maintaining your academic skills is a good practice, you can take it a step farther with Advanced Placement classes, which earn you college credit depending on your grade on the AP exam(s). Also, taking demanding courses during your senior year also benefits you by training you to deal with academic burnout – an experience many college freshman struggle with towards the middle of the semester, and in no small part because they’d forgotten how to handle a heavy workload.
I know it sounds trite and unnecessarily onerous, like the types of things parents would tell you when you were a kid (“Eat your vegetables because they build character, and I told you to”). But you could reach a balance that’s right for you – such as taking less overall courses your senior year, but taking APs instead of the normal ones – and you’d still look okay for prospective schools. Of course, the more APs you take, the easier it will be for you in school – finally, for the first time in school, initiative actually has a tangible payoff, and not in the ‘extra credit’ kind.
There are sometimes recourses to taking classes in the traditional sense, too. For instance, sometimes it can be negotiated with your high school to offer class credit for an academic internship, which is usually in the field of your choice. It’s best arranged prior to your senior year, so you should be prepared to commit to it; all you need to do is look online, or in the classifieds, for a local business (a law firm, or for a court, or shadowing doctors, et cetera) that are interested in high school interns. You could always inquire in person if they aren’t directly advertising. Have them write a letter to your school stating their desire to work with you, and your weekly responsibilities, and if your school gives it the ‘okay’ you could be excused for a number of class hours for the internship. Or check out dual-enrollment courses in a local community college – you may be able to complete courses with the same function as APs, while getting a taste of the real thing.
In short, the grades you get in your senior year of high school do more to keep tabs for colleges than they do offer you updates on your academic standing – after all, your academic world is poised to change within a short span of months. But there’s little you can do about the situation but make the best of it – and by looking for productive and unique ways to spend your senior year, you may be doing more to impress colleges even if you’d kept up the schoolwork!